Help! My Child Will Not Behave
When your toddler is misbehaving and you can’t figure out why, step back and take a look at this checklist to help diagnose the possible causes. As you review this list, don’t get overwhelmed by your failures. There are no perfect parents! Take it one step at a time. Begin working on one or two deficiencies in your parenting style that may be having the greatest impact on your child.
Your Child’s Basic Needs:
- Is my child cranky and short-tempered due to lack of sleep? Do I consistently require a designated bedtime each evening for my child?
Solution: For your toddler and preschooler, require daily napping and a healthy bedtime (7-7:30). For your school age child, have a bedtime routine and regular bedtime (7:30-8:00). For a child to be self-control, he must be well rested.
- How’s my child’s nutrition? Do I offer my child sweet drink and snacks any time she wants them, or at times just to keep her happy? Do I offer my child only the foods she wants, even if unhealthy foods (chicken fingers, French fries, etc)?
Solution: Avoid continuous snacking on unhealthy foods and unlimited juice or milk drinking. Instead, offer water between meals. Limit snacking to healthy foods (fruits, nuts, vegetables) at designated times (mid-afternoon and mid-morning). Attempt to eat a family meal together at home as often as possible. Model health eating habits as a parent. Nutrition can affect behavior.
- Is my child having screen withdrawal? Excessive screen time (TV, tablet, smart phone, and video) is addictive and captivating, so that when the device is turned off, the young child becomes edgy and quick tempered.
Solution: Avoid screens with children under 2 years, including offering a child your smartphone for distraction or entertainment to keep him quiet. Don’t allow gaming screen time (video gaming or app games on the phone or tablet) after school on school day evenings (Sunday through Thursday). Instead, encourage outside play, musical instrument play or reading. It is amazing how this will improve your child’s behavior!
- How active is my child? Is he or she viewing too much TV, tablet, or video gaming?
Solution: Encourage outside play. Limit and monitor your child’s time before the screens (TV, tablet, video gaming, computer, smart phone). Although it may seem like an innocent form of entertainment or distraction for your young child, screen time is addictive and often makes the behavior worse when the screens are turned off. Avoid screen time under 2 years old, and limit screen time after 2 years to ½ – 1 hour a day.
Nurture your child’s creativity with non-electronic toys, such as Legos, toy cars, dolls, coloring books and picture books. Encourage a sport or extracurricular activity for your school age child. Model an active lifestyle as a parent. Too little exercise will affect your child physical, mental and emotional health, especially as a teenager.
- Has life gotten crazy lately? Have I neglected my child’s need for time and affection lately?
Solution: Slow down. Commit to spending regular focused time with your child. Schedule the time, even if it is just 15 minutes of one-on-one time when you get home from daycare in the evenings, or a block of 15-30 minutes after the afternoon nap each day. Examples include playing with Legos, working a puzzle, going for a walk, playing a game, talking, or going on a breakfast date together.
- Have I failed to make clear my expectations for my child’s behavior?
Solution: Take time during the calm moments to explain to your child the rules and your expectations for proper behavior.
- Have I been reactive in my correction rather than proactive?
Solution: Plan ahead. Don’t just react to your child’s misbehavior. Prior to a challenging setting, review your rules and consequences for behavior with your child, i.e. before entering the grocery store or restaurant. Regularly discuss your child’s behavior with your spouse and strategize on how to improve your approach to her needs and behavior.
- Is most of the attention I show my child focused on correcting him or her? Do I show my child enough attention when he or she behaves correctly?
Solution: “Catch ’em being good.” Look for opportunities (few as they may be) to praise your child’s good behavior. If only negative behavior is noticed, your child will misbehave simply to get your attention. Your encouraging words should outnumber your words of correction.
- Have I been inconsistent in my correction? Do I mostly correct when the misbehavior interferes with my personal plans?
Solution: Be consistent with your correction. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don’t threaten to correct and then fail to follow through. What is your true motivation for your child to behave? Is it to make you look good to others, or is it to build his or her character?
Solution: Have a plan for your correction. Don’t get overwhelmed. Pick 2-3 behaviors that you want to correct and focus your efforts there. Talk with your spouse about being consistent in the corrective measures you both will use with your child’s behavior.
- Have I chosen the right corrective measure for my child’s age? Am I over-using the same correction measure, rather than being creative in my correction? Have I been harsh and inflexible in my application of correction towards my child?
Solution: Read some books and resources on parenting. Schedule time with your spouse to talk about some of your child’s specific behaviors or attitudes that need correcting. Talk with other parents or counselors about parenting.
Solution: Review the measures available for your child’s age. Study how to use them effectively.
- How’s my marriage? Is there unrest in our relationship that could be causing insecurity in my child or edginess in me?
Solution: Consult resources, and consider counsel from a close friend, pastor, and professional counselor.
- Have I been impatient lately due to issues in my personal life or at work?
Solution: Consult resources, discuss with your spouse, and consider counsel from a close friend, pastor, and professional counselor.
- If divorced: Are we parents regularly communicating about our child’s needs and behavior? Am I contributing equally to our child’s emotional well-being?
Solution: Don’t let conflict between you and your ex-spouse interfere with communication about your child’s needs. Whether your child is living in your home or not, it is your responsibility to do your part to facilitate communication with the other parent. When parents feud, their child always loses.